A woman receiving PT for hip and knee flare pain. There is a floating fire extinguisher putting out a flame on the womans knee.

In Praise of Physical Therapy for Rheumatoid Arthritis 

For the past year, my right ankle has been listing, like a boat that is slowly sinking. And lately, I’ve noticed that my shoes are getting worn to the nub on the outside. This makes sense given the fact that I’m walking on the side of my foot, and that has become both expensive and annoying. Not to mention the increased pain I’ve been having in my right knee and hip from my awkward, and unhealthy gait.

A physical therapy referral for hip pain

Now, we all know 2020 is the year of suffering - each of us dealing the best we can with the myriad of complications that come with anything involving leaving the house.

With that in mind, along with the words of my rheumatologist who explicitly has told me to stay away from indoor public spaces as much as possible, I procrastinated doing anything until I couldn’t sleep on my right side anymore because of my hip pain.

One night, I told myself, “Enough is enough,” and the next day I called my doctor for a physical therapy referral.

Doing PT exercises daily

For the past three weeks, my right ankle has been gently stretched, and I’m doing daily exercises that look simple (like writing the alphabet in the air with my foot,) but are really hard!

An understanding physical therapist

The first day I was there, my physical therapist told me, “Don’t stretch your foot to the point of pain, and please tell me if I hurt you.” As soon as he said this, I knew I’d found the right place. A good physical therapist has some inkling about the intense pain we deal with every day and knows that increasing pain will likely lead to increased inflammation, defeating any gains made.

PT and OT as part as RA management

Physical therapy, along with occupational therapy, is vitally important in managing diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. The damage, swelling, and pain that comes with rheumatoid arthritis will turn even the most limber of us into the Tin Man, walking stiffly so that the discomfort won’t feel as bad.

We automatically hold painful, inflamed joints in their position of comfort, which shortens tendons and creates a vicious cycle of pain, tension, shortened tendons, and more pain. I wasn’t doing anything wrong by keeping my ankle stiff when I walked; it helped me to walk with less pain. But physical therapy will help counteract the natural course of this cycle.

Noticeable improvements in my hip and ankle pain

My physical therapist was right when he told me not to expect miracles, that getting my ankle all the way to a neutral position is asking too much at this point in my disease. But in three weeks it is already stronger, more mobile, and I’m noticing less pain in my hip

It helps to have a specialist

Noticeable improvements like this are the goal of visiting a physical therapist. Even though I have the ability to do many of the exercises that I know help on my own, having a specialist in human movement look at me every once in a while and help me re-correct old unhelpful habits, while giving me new ideas and new eyes on my ability to move, is never a bad thing.

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